Moscow was named the Europe’s Leading City Destination by Worldtravelawards 2020. The Russian capital knows how to surprise: just as soon as you think you've already walked all its streets, you stumble upon an unfamiliar square you've never seen before. And sometimes, a wrong turn can take you to a secluded, shaded avenue. It's impossible to know just how many of these surprises the city is hiding. Here are just some of the parks most people don't know about.
At the end of the 16th century Ivan the Terrible ordered the construction of Oprichnina Court, his personal residence not far from the Moscow Kremlin. This half-wooden, half-brick palace is located between what are now Romanov Lane and the Vozdvizhenka, Bolshaya Nikitskaya and Mokhovaya streets. At the time the walls of the palace seemed impregnable. The gates are covered with strips of iron and tin and are decorated with stern lions with mirrors for eyes. Oprichnina towered over other buildings, and at night its white stone was lit by torches, while guardsmen kept watch along the perimeter of its walls.
How could a palace like this just disappear? As it turns out, it didn't. In the 19th century the land was passed on to Pyotr Pashkov, the son of Peter the Great's attendant. In addition to the palace on Vozdvizhenka, he ordered the construction of a separate building for hosting balls on Mokhovaya. But it was never used for its intended purpose, and the mansion sat vacant for several decades before being donated to Moscow University. During the construction of the Moscow Metro in the mid-1930s workers discovered a layer of sand under a nearby building, which archaeologists believe may well have been part of the site of Oprichnina Court. Other remnants from the time of Ivan the Terrible include white-stone chambers, outbuildings for cooking meals and heating stoves.
The building on Mokhovaya has been home to the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University since 1970. In spring the park in front of the main entrance is covered in flowers, while wide-canopied trees provide shade. This corner of the old Moscow still has many secrets yet to be discovered.
Location: 9 Mokhovaya St, bldg 1
Despite its location next to the bustling Kitay-Gorod, the tiny garden on Ivanovskaya Hill is still unknown to many. At one point, this area was part of Prince Cantemir's estate, from whom Catherine the Great purchased the land for her Tsaritsyno Palace for a princely sum. In the 19th century the merchant Vasily Kokorev established a hotel here and opened the nearby garden to the public. Perhaps even the famous Russian writer Alexander Pushkin visited here while working on his play Boris Godunov in the archives of the Board of Foreign Affairs. And the editorial office of the Russky Vestnik magazine located in the building next door was frequently visited by Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Literary Garden and the entire Kokorev estate along with it were bought by the Morozov family – the famous philanthropist Savva Morozov spent his childhood here. Since then the garden has been known as the Morozovsky Garden rather than the Kokorevsky Garden as it was called before. It isn't easy to find this wonderful park with its old maples. You'll need to look out for an easy-to-miss gate at the intersection of Khokhlovsky, Podkopaevsky and Bolshoy Trekhsvyatitelsky lanes. But once there, you'll find yourself in a scene not unlike those in the pages of novels about life in old Moscow where the setting sun embraces the roofs of nearby houses and turns the domes of the churches gold.
Location: Bolshoy Trekhsvyatitelsky Lane
The Marfo-Mariinsky Convent on Ordynka is always a place of peace and quiet. It was founded by Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fedorovna who decided to renounce worldly life after the assassination of her spouse Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich by terrorists. She sold her valuables and palace in St Petersburg and used the money to fund the construction of the convent before taking her monastic vows. The convent offered help to anyone in difficult circumstances and set up a shelter for orphaned girls. The nuns at the convent also planted a garden. Today it's fashioned in Elizaveta Fedorovna's favourite colours: white, pink, gold and blue. In spring the garden is abloom with lilacs, then plum and apricot trees, while lilies and roses sway in the gentle summer breeze. It is a peaceful place — you can come here to read a book or simply collect your thoughts and listen to your inner voice.
Location: 34 Bolshaya Ordynka
'There are no gardens on the Garden Ring,
There are only streetlights that stand by the houses and
In the evening, in the evening, in the evening,
Blossom, like flowers, for passers-by.'
Needless to say, there aren't many parks on the noisy Garden Ring, but there are still some quiet corners nevertheless. For example, if you make a turn and enter the archway near building No. 13, you'll find yourself inside a real-life fairy tale. The gate is guarded by two 'sentinels' — stone lion statues. After petting their manes (don't be afraid, they won't bite), we can move on to meet the garden's other inhabitants. One is a romantic fountain depicting a girl hiding from the rain under an umbrella, about to stamp her delicate foot in the bowl of the fountain and splash rain in all directions. Then there's a shaggy dog next to a tree, while a man in a serious suit takes a break from work on a nearby bench. One of the neighbouring houses is decorated with wrought-iron maple leaves which blend in organically with the rest of the ensemble. Just a few dozen metres away, cars rush back and forth as pigeons anxiously fly away from the road, but this place is a world of its own — peaceful, mischievous and different.
Location: 13/3 Sadovaya-Chernogryazskaya St
It's said that Greece has everything. But Moscow isn't far behind — it can even boast a piece of Ancient Greece of its own. This architectural wonder is located near Kursky train station. And in just a 10-minute walk you'll find yourself at the Yauza Gateway. You can see several light-yellow buildings along the river between Zolotorozhskaya Street and Akademika Tupoleva Embankment: a dam, a gateway and a transformer substation. At first glance, there is nothing special about these typical late-30s buildings. But once you take a closer look, you'll be amazed. The buildings are decorated with turrets, antique sculptures, Doric order porticoes and Pompeii-style frescoes. There is also a small garden where you can not only watch small ships dashing along the Yauza but also take some time to rest.
Location: 3 Akademika Tupoleva Embankment
Oftentimes, the most progressive ideas are born in extreme situations. And this is exactly what happened with Rostokino Aqueduct. In 1771 Moscow was hit by a plague, and it turned out that there wasn't enough of the clean drinking water the city needed so much. The Moskva River was polluted with sewage. Catherine the Great ordered the construction of a centralised water supply system. Work on the Mytishchi gravity water-supply system continued for a quarter of a century, with as much as 1.6 million roubles allocated from the treasury for its construction — a considerable amount at the time. Water from the upper Yauza flowed into the aqueduct towards Trubnaya and Samotechnaya squares and the Neglinka river, where people could draw the precious commodity from special fountains. This allowed water from the river to be transported over a distance of 26 kilometres. Only one of the five aqueducts, Rostokino Aqueduct, remains. In the 2000s it was restored and transformed into a bridge surrounded by a park.
Location: Rostokino Aqueduct
Take in views of Moscow, play pétanque and much more
Not just palaces
Playgrounds, topiary, a museum and much more
The cosy lanes of the old garden, an open-air cinema and sports
The picturesque embankments of the Yauza River, poetic landscapes and romance
A Chinese garden, a Turkish fortress and a Russian estate